Sunday Musings: Is Rudy Gay a #2 option?
The Sacramento Kings are 18 games into the much anticipated 2015/16 season, and DeMarcus Cousins has already missed eight games. The Kings have managed to win one game without their star big man.
That is unacceptable.
You would think this team has enough talent to win a couple games without Cousins but they haven’t. Rudy Gay is believed to be the secondary option when Cousins is out, but Gay has struggled to help his team get over the hump.
That raises the question if Gay is a legitimate secondary option on a playoff team in today’s NBA?
When ESPN did their annual NBA Player Rankings, they listed Gay as 70th in the league (ESPN.com).
Basic math would indicate that a true number two option would have to be ranked in the top 60 in the NBA. Therefore, Gay would not be a number two player, but more of a high-end number three option.
The Kings’ franchise player, Cousins, was ranked 12th, which justifies him as any team’s number one option. After Cousins though, is where concerns about the team become evident.
Are the exact rankings both questionable and highly subjective? Sure.
Do they at least make the point that there is a potential talent deficit on this roster? Absolutely.
Cousins is a bona fide star in this league, but he can’t do it by himself. The Kings need someone who can support him when he is on the court, and step into his role when he is off of it.
Is Gay is that “guy” when Cousins is not playing? He can certainly develop and grow into that, but the Kings will need him to do so quickly. This being his 10th season in the league, one has to wonder how much improvement is on the horizon.
Thus far, Gay has struggled to step in for Cousins in the eight games he hasn’t played. With Cousins on the court, he averages 18.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Without Cousins, Gay averages 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists (Basketball-Reference.com).
The difference is minimal, if not discouraging.
With the slight exception in rebounds, his numbers are down across the board. This likely proves how Cousins makes those around him better. It also proves that Gay hasn’t been able to fill in for the All-Star when needed.
Before the Minnesota and Golden State game, Gay was coming off a polarizing performance. Against Milwaukee, Gay sufficiently stepped in for Cousins as he put up 36 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
Unfortunately, that is only one game.
In the following game against a young Minnesota team, Gay only managed to score two points on 1-of-13 shooting, and achieved only four rebounds while failing to register a single assist.
Without Cousins, the Kings are now 1-7.
Winning in the NBA without your best player will always be difficult for any team. However, 1-7 is an alarming record when you consider some losses were to very winnable opponents such as Phoenix, Memphis and now Minnesota.
Whether or not Gay is a true secondary option, the Kings are relying on him to be one, and he will need to raise his game if the Kings are to improve their record.
For Gay, it should start with shot selection.
Thus far, the Kings’ offense has been hit-and-miss. Much of the offense has involved fairly elementary isolation sets. Unfortunately for Gay, those isolations typically neither start well nor end well.
In the clip below, a play is ran that involves a lot of player movement through the key before the isolation is set up for Gay. The Suns don’t take the bait and remain in good help position.
(Video Credit: NBA.com)
Gay receives the pass in a poor position to do much with the ball. He is well guarded and the help defense is ready. Nevertheless, Gay proceeds to put his head down (making any pass nearly impossible) and drive to the hoop shooting a highly contested shot. With five defenders in the key at the time of the shot, the ball fails to find the bottom of the net.
It’s important to note that Gay’s move neither started well nor ended well.
That is, however, not always the case. In other circumstances, Gay has been set up well but has failed to execute properly.
In the clip below, Gay receives the ball at the top of the key with plenty of space to get a good shot off. However, he takes a meaningless dribble, giving P.J. Tucker time to close the gap on him.
Gay then continues to take two more dribbles before shooting a long-range two-pointer with a hand in his face. The shot unsurprisingly also fails to find the bottom of the net.
(Video Credit: NBA.com)
Against the Suns, Gay started 1-of-5 in the first quarter (ESPN.com). That may not sound overly significant, but the Kings ended the first quarter of that game with a 10-point deficit.
Poor starts have plagued the Kings thus far, and much of it has to do with their poor defense. However, a lot has to do with the fact that the Kings simply aren’t keeping up on offense.
Of their 12 losses, they have trailed by double digits by halftime in eight of them (ESPN.com).
Many of those games have featured valiant third quarter efforts to get back into the contest, but those efforts have typically fallen flat in the fourth.
The offense’s ability to keep up in games is mainly due to taking low percentage shots, and Gay is one of the biggest culprits as the videos above highlight.
As far as taking contested shots that are classified as “Very Tight” by NBA.com (defender within two feet), Gay commits the second most on the team behind Cousins.
This isn’t surprising since Gay is the secondary scoring option on this team.
Cousins is not only is the primary scoring option, but he also is a post player – defenders will naturally be closer when he shoots his shots.
Cousins attempts 5.3 contested shots per game whereas Gay attempts 4.2. Where the two are much different is in the percentage of made shots.
Cousins makes 52.8 percent of his contested shots whereas Gay only converts 34.3 percent of his – nearly 20 percent less than Cousins (NBA.com).
When a defender is two to four feet from them (classified as “Tight”), Cousins’ percentages actually drop to 45.5 percent. Gay’s percentages, however, improves dramatically to 54.2 percent (NBA.com).
It not only highlights what Gay can do with just a little space, but also the need for the Kings to put him in the right situation to do so.
Part of the blame should be on the offensive system, but much of it goes on Gay as well. He can’t afford to force shots, and he can’t afford to take unnecessary dribbles.
For him to be relied upon to be the secondary option that this team needs, he is going to have to play smarter rather than simply harder.
This team is in desperate need of a secondary option and the success of the season falls largely on Gay’s ability to answer that call.